Over the past 24 hours, 627 people have died of the virus, with 380 of those deaths coming in the northern region of Lombardy, where doctors have been pleading for international assistance. The total number of confirmed cases nationwide now stands at 47,021.
The surge in the death toll now means Italy well surpasses the death toll in China, the origin of the outbreak, where 3,249 have died. The news that Italy has become the worst hit country came as the authorities in China reported no new domestic cases, three new deaths and a total of 228 imported cases today, a major milestone in the country’s fight against the pandemic.
To help combat the virus in the hardest hit areas, the Italian prime minister announced a task force of volunteer doctors who would be sent to those areas.
"Up to 300 doctors will come from all over Italy to support the areas most affected by the Coronavirus. We are standing beside the communities that are on the front line in facing this emergency, we continue to fight this battle together with them,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared in a statement.
The volunteer task force will be made up of doctors from all parts of Italy.
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The number of doctors in Italy who have lost their lives due to the coronavirus rose to 14 overnight, according to the National Federation of Medical Officers. So far at least 3,559 health workers have been infected with the virus, which accounts for roughly 8.3% of the total positive infections in the country.
Italian medical workers, particularly in the worst-hit northern regions, have repeatedly stressed that they are overworked and under-resourced, especially now that such a large number are testing positive themselves.
"I would say that we are at the end of our strength,” Dr. Romano Paolucci, who's at Oglio Po Hospital in Cremona, told Reuters. “This is a small hospital and we are taking in a lot of people, I would say the capacity is finished. We do not have sufficient resources and especially staff because apart from everything else now the staff are beginning to get sick."
Paolucci said that the hospital required more ventilators, equipment, staff and beds to deal with the emergency, “to avoid everyone really working to the end of the strength because we are doing 12-hour shifts, even the doctors are doing 12-hour shifts which are just a massacre."
One nurse at the hospital estimated that 70 percent of people “manage to survive and be cured.”
Stefano Fagiuoli, the chair of the Department of Medicine at the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo, Lombardy, launched an urgent public appeal for funds and volunteer doctors in a video circulated to foreign media.
“We are in full emergency with this coronavirus pandem[ic],” he said. “Our health personnel, nurses and physicians are working round the clock, countless hours to fight this incredible situation.”
In the video, he urgently called on Italy’s population to “please stay at home.”
“The second message is for whoever wants to help us. We are in desperate need of both nurses and physicians, together with ventilators,” he said, in his call to solicit donations to a specially set up a GoFundMe page, which has so far raised $900,000.
A Chinese medical team of 12 doctors, nurses and experts flew into Lombardy to provide assistance to the Italian authorities earlier this week.
As well as the team of 300 volunteer doctors to be sent to the worst hit areas, Italy will be receiving more international aid in the coming days.
A team of 50 medics from Cuba is arriving over the weekend to help, while an American field hospital is expected to begin operating today in Cremona, a city in the province of virus-stricken Lombardy.
NGO Samaritan’s Purse airlifted a 68-bed Emergency Field Hospital to Milan today, with a DC-8 aircraft carrying around 20 tons of equipment, a specially developed respiratory care unit and 32 disaster relief medical personnel, who will be staying in the country for at least a month.